Very often, we Indians tend to overlook the downsides of our traditions. We are so blinded by them and their centuries-old heritage that education or no amount of time has changed our perspective. And even if we do, we tend to forget it, because that’s what our culture is made of. Our parents followed the traditions and their parents did it too, which makes us wonder if we’re right in going against our own traditions. Also, when someone dares to question or make any changes to these traditions, they’ll be threatened by the intense atmosphere of religious intolerance that has been growing dangerously in the past few decades. Amidst all this, Nandini Bhowmik, West Bengal’s first woman priest, performs weddings without Kanyadaan.
Nandini, a Sanskrit professor, and a priestess has her own unique way of solemnizing weddings, which is a tad different from what we’ve been following for years. She simplifies Sanskrit mantras to Bengali and English so that the bride and the groom can recite them correctly. This also helps the people attending the wedding, understand the hymns better. Besides, Nandini keeps away from performing Kanyadaan — a wedding ritual that’s considered to be of high importance. Read on to know more about Nandini and why she is against the ritual of Kanyadaan.
Who Is Nandini Bhowmik?
Nandini Bhowmik is popularly known as West Bengal’s first female Hindu priest. However, she’s also a professor of Sanskrit at Jadavpur University in Kolkata, a drama artist, and a doting mother. Nandini has solemnized the wedding of her own daughter! And in total, she with her group have taken over about 40 weddings in 10 years. While Nandini recites the hymns for the to-be-wed couple, her group sings Rabindra Sangeet in the background, adding to the sanctity of the whole atmosphere. Nandini and her troupe have garnered a huge fan following in Kolkata and its suburbs over the past few years.
Even though she gets very little time while juggling between teaching and being associated with more than 10 drama groups, Nandini somehow makes enough time to perform weddings. She mostly opts for inter-ethnic, inter-caste, and inter-religious marriages to perform, breaking the shackles of cultural stereotypes.
Nandini On Kanyadaan
Kanyadaan is a ritual that symbolizes the giving away of the bride. During the ritual, either the father of the bride or an older male relative entrusts the groom with the bride. While it is something that’s irreplaceable in the traditional Hindu weddings, Nandini decides to remove it and not replace it with anything similar. In an interview with a newspaper, Nandini says, “I do not perform Kanyadaan as I consider the practice regressive, in which women are treated as commodities. I try to keep the rituals short and simple and complete the entire program within an hour.”
“I want to do away with the patriarchal mindset where parents appear to be renouncing the custody of their kanya (the bride), treating her like a commodity and giving her away as daan (donation),” she said in another interview soon after she performed the wedding of Arka Bhattacharya and Anvita Janardhanan. Well, we couldn’t agree more with her.
According to the groom Arka, women are not only breaking into a male monopoly, but are also enhancing the value of priesthood. “I have heard so many male priests reciting the mantras wrong. At a friend’s wedding officiated by Nandini and her friends last year, I was instantly drawn to the way the Sanskrit lines were vividly explained in English and Bengali,” he said.
Kanyadaan isn’t the only ritual junked by Nandini Bhowmik. Piri ghorano, a ritual during which the bride sits on a piri (a short stool) and is carried around the groom in circles by her family for seven times, is also cut out of the ceremony. Another ritual Chaal chhora during which the bride throws back rice to symbolize her paying back the debt of food she consumed at her father’s house since birth is also scrapped off.
When asked if Nandini ever felt threatened due to the growth of political Hindutva that can turn against anyone who tries to bring a change in their cultural practices she says, “I respect the traditional priests and I am not in confrontation with them. Though my husband sometimes feels threatened due to the growth of aggressive Hindutva, I have not yet received any personal threats.”
The mother of two is inspired by Gouri Dharmapal, her teacher. She not only brings in progressive changes into rusty old traditions but also tries to make positive changes to the society by supporting the poor. Most of Nandini’s earnings are donated to an orphanage located in Balighai near Puri, Odisha.
Change is not always a bad thing, as long as it’s progressive. Nandini Bowmik’s unique way of performing weddings is something that symbolizes the triumph of equality and dignity of women over misogynistic traditions. What do you think about such changes made to our traditions? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
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